What would you nominate as the number one priority of the church? Discipleship? Evangelism? Social Justice? Love all mankind? If you said any of those you would be wrong.
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Matt 22:37-38
Notice that Jesus said that loving God is the FIRST and GREAT commandment. This speaks to the first order of things and preeminence. It is priority one.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? To love God and enjoy Him forever.
If we get the loving God part wrong we will be improperly motivated to do the rest. Our evangelism will become a way for us to measure our success. Our discipleship will become a way to puff up our own knowledge. Our activism in social justice will be ego gratifying false altruism. Our love will be truncated and stunted because it will have a finite source…US.
It is really about Jesus. We have to get this right. All that follows depends on the right beginning.
In last book of the Bible we get a gauzy glimpse of the worship that is happening in heaven right now. The apostle John is in prison in a penal colony on the isle of Patmos. He tells us what he sees in heaven. The elders, angels and a host of heavenly creatures are singing loud songs of praise about the Lamb—Jesus.
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain…“ Rev 5:9
He took our punishment
In the gardan of Gethsemane Jesus prayed to his father, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus wasn’t horrified by the prospect of physical suffering. Others faced worse physical pain than Jesus. That’s not why He sweat blood and recoiled in horror at the cross.
It was the fact that He was to become at His core…sin. He became the personification, the embodiment, the expression of vile depravity.
Think of your worst sin. Got it? Now remember when the Holy Spirit convicted you of that and you saw with blinding clarity, the ugliness of that particular sin. Remember how you felt? The shame. The guilt. Now multiply that feeling by the thousands of experiences of sin in your life. Now multiply that feeling by the billions and billions of people who have ever lived.
War…Murder…Rape…Sexual Abuse…Deceit…Gossip…Sexual Perversion…
Imagine, now, one person experiencing within Himself the indescribable nightmare of that guilt and remorse…as if He had done each thing—bearing the weight of all that. And imagine that one person not just feeling separated from God…or as horrible as that is…imagine that person being the focus of God’s wrath.
That was the cup Jesus begged to be spared of. It was the cup of God’s wrath towards the sins of God’s people whom He loves.
Imagine that burden falling on a heart that from eternity past had never known the slightest shadow of guilt. Imagine that wrath falling on a heart that for eternity had never known a split second of separation.
My friends, you will never face the wrath of God for your sins. All you will ever know is the smile of God on your life. All you will ever know for all eternity is God’s grace.
That’s why the angels and the elders sing this new song. Because Jesus took our wrath and set us free.
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy (for you)…have redeemed us to God by Your blood …” Rev 5:9
He Purchased with His blood.
“For even the Son of Man (came to) give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
In Jesus’ day, this was a familiar picture. When someone became a slave, their freedom would be set at a price yet they could earn a modicum of a wage so that in theory could purchase their freedom. But that rarely happened. Someone else might pay the ransom. But that didn’t happen very often.
So slaves typically lived all their lives knowing that freedom was just a ransom’s price away, yet knowing they would never be able to pay it. They would die slaves. Can you imagine living with that just out of reach?
In the movie Schindler’s List we see a modern picture of this. It is the story of a man named Oscar Schindler who sees a whole race of people headed for destruction and he is a wealthy man. He realizes he could use his factories and wealth to buy human lives and save them from death. There is one scene where he’s got a group of people to his factory but their children and their wives were on a train headed for destruction. He goes to the Nazi officer and pours out a little bag of diamonds and says, “I want to buy those people.”
One of the last scenes, when the war is over and the death camps are finally liberated—he is surrounded by hundreds of lives that he has saved when the thought hits him of all the lives that were not saved. He breaks down and begins to weep saying: “I could have done more. I could have done more. I could have sold this car.” He takes off his watch and says, “How many would this have purchased? I could have sold this to buy more. I could have given up more to save them.”
That picture is a small glimpse of the heart of God. God says, “I would give up everything I have to buy every life I can.”
“…You were bought at a price.” I Cor. 6:20 (NIV)
Harold Branch a great African-American preacher told a touching story in a sermon I heard him preach years ago. It is one of my favorite stories.
One day a little girl was combing her mother’s hair leaned over and said, Momma you know I love you don’t you? The mother said yes I know it.
Momma I love to comb your hair with these little strands of gray but so full and so beautiful. I love to comb your hair. Mother I just love your voice. Your voice is so sweet. I love to hear you sing. As far back as I can remember your lullabies would gently put me to sleep. I love your voice.
Momma I just love lookin’ at your eyes as they sparkle and the dance with delight. I just love lookin’ into your eyes. They mean so much to me.
But Momma why…tell me why…why did you let your hands get so scarred and so rough. Why didn’t you get you some lotion or some crème? Why didn’t you take better care of your hands?
There was a long moment of silence.
The mother reached around and caught her little daughter’s hands and pulled her around, picked her up and set her on her lap. And said, “Mary, I’ve got something to tell you; maybe I should have told you this before now.
“What is it Momma?” Mary asked.
She said, “Mary, there was mother who had prayed to God to give her a baby girl. And the Lord answered her prayers and gave her this baby girl. And she got so much joy in doing for this baby girl. She loved the sewing and the knitting and making clothes for this baby girl.
One day while this mother was ironing remembered that she needed something from the drug store and she looked there and the little baby girl in the crib sleeping. The mother thought, “I’ll ease off to the drug store and get these articles and get back before her nap is over.”
And, Mary, this mother went to the drug store and on her way back, fire trucks passed her but she didn’t think nothing of it until she got to the corner. And when she got to the corner and looked the fire trucks were parked in front of her apartment. And the ladders were up to the third floor window where she lived.
And all of a sudden, Mary, she remembered that when she was ironing and had decided to go to the drug store she had left the iron on the board. And it was her apartment that was on fire and that her little girl was in there!
And she began to run and the firemen would pull at her to try to stop her and the policeman reached for her to try to stop her and she pulled out of her coat and ran up the stairs and opened the door to her apartment and Mary as she moved across the floor she looked and flames of fire were reaching out to embrace her little girl so she raced over to the crib grabbed her little girl and pulled her to her bosom…as the flames of fire were reaching for the little girl they burned the mother’s hands.
And, Mary, I want you to know that little girl was you.
Tears began to roll down Mary’s cheeks. She began to weep and wash those hands with her tears. She began to kiss them and said, “Oh Momma. Oh Momma. Oh Momma. How I love your hands! Because your hands saved me!”
Why do we worship Jesus? Because…
“. . .He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
I don’t know about you, but I love Him. I worship Jesus because he took my punishment and because He purchased my salvation with his broken body and shed blood.
Makes me want to join the voices of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches
And strength and honor and
Glory and blessing!”